12/27/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Those responsible for melamine-contaminated milk risk death penalty

The trial has begun against executives and suppliers of Sanlu, the company mainly responsible for the scandal. On the 31st, the trial against the former president begins. But in the meantime, the company has gone bankrupt, and the families of the 290,000 children sickened by the milk are afraid that no one will compensate them.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tian Wenhua, the former president of the dairy company Sanlu, risks the death penalty in the trial that begins on December 31, over the scandal of melamine-contaminated milk, which caused serious kidney problems for about 290,000 infants, and killed at least six of them. But the victims are more concerned because, after the bankruptcy of Sanlu on December 24, their chances of compensation are slim.

Yesterday, in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), where the Sanlu headquarters is located, the trial began against six other executives and suppliers for the company. Tian, and anyone believed to be responsible for the death of the infants, could be sentenced to life in prison or receive the death penalty. Melamine - a toxic substance that makes food appear more nutritious - had been added to the powdered milk for infants. So far, the dairy company has accused its suppliers, but many maintain that it is scarcely credible that no analyses were ever conducted, and are asking how it is possible that so few people could have been involved in a contamination that poisoned so many babies.

Just as the trials were pending, on December 24 Sanlu received a bankruptcy order, because it could not pay debts of at least 1.1 billion yuan (about 110 million euros) to its suppliers. Now it has six months to sell all of its assets and pay its creditors.

But so far, the courts have declared "inadmissible" all of the requests for compensation made by the parents of the sick children, explaining that the results of the official investigations must be awaited. The parents are furious and discouraged because, although the government has always assured them free medical care and adequate compensation, in reality many families have had to pay for their own care (861 infants are still in the hospital) and no one has specified who will pay the compensation. Today, the Chinese dairy association announced that a group of 22 producers will compensate families, but again, without specifying who will pay, how many families will be compensated, how much they will receive, or when.

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